by Russ Mayes
Air Force Remotely Piloted Aircraft Capabilities Office
2/13/2014 - WASHINGTON -- Using a
repurposed commercial satellite, Air Force crews flew MQ-1 Predators
and MQ-9 Reapers from Creech Air Force Base, Nev., during multiple
missions in November and December.
A test team with the 53rd Test Management Group, Detachment 4 and led by
2nd Lt. Dan Broyles successfully demonstrated inclined orbit satellite
capability for MQ-1 and MQ-9 to meet operational needs this year and
beyond, said Maj. Joshua Williams, the detachment commander.
MQ-1 and MQ-9 remotely piloted aircraft were used during tests late last
year to implement beyond line-of-sight capability using lower-cost,
inclined orbit satellite communications.
"Inclined orbit satellites are older satellites that lack the fuel to
maintain a fixed geostationary location and are allowed to drift into
slightly 'wobbling' orbits," said Lt. Col. Gary Rafnson, the 556th Test
and Evaluation Squadron commander. "This wobbling requires users to use
satellite dishes that move to track the satellites rather than fixed
dishes like those used by satellite television providers."
This technical difficulty limits the utility of inclined satellites for
commercial users, resulting in reduced lease costs over traditional
"MQ-1 and MQ-9 programs have integrated the required satellite tracking
software and the 53rd Wing, as part of the Air Force RPA test community,
developed procedures for continuously updating the satellite tracking
data needed," Rafnson said. "Leveraging space expertise, the RPA test
community turned to the 17th Test Squadron at Schriever Air Force Base
(Colo.) to guide them in obtaining the essential data from military
rather than commercial sources. This ability to ingest satellite
tracking data from the Joint Space Operations Center, Vandenberg Air
Force Base (Calif.), will minimize the chance of errors and ensure the
antennas point at the right location."
For Air Combat Command, inclined orbit SATCOM provides a tangible,
long-term savings opportunity, said Derek Jatho, the MQ-1 and MQ-9
communications lead. As an indicator of the type of savings that can be
achieved, ACC's latest lease for continental Unites States commercial
SATCOM includes four inclined orbit SATCOM lines at approximately 50
percent savings over a typical lease.
"Increased (inclined orbit) SATCOM use, depending on availability, will
further reduce the Air Force's total annual SATCOM costs, and ACC plans
to expand its use after sufficient evaluation," said Col. Brian Pierson,
the Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Weapons Systems
Division, Plans, Programs and Requirements directorate chief.
The 53rd TMG falls under the 53rd Wing at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla.